When I was growing up and doing Sunday school I remember going to other churches and seeing the cool prizes you could get for perfect attendance and for memorizing scripture. To be honest, I always felt a bit bummed that we didn’t get those things in my church.
As I grew up however, I began to wonder about these ways of getting kids to places and getting them to memorize. Shouldn’t the reward be in line with the action? If we are memorizing, for instance, Micah 6.8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mic 6:8 ESV), shouldn’t there be a connection to the joy of justice, kindness, and a humble walk? Or to do a play on Paul from his letter to the Corinthians (see 2 Corinthians 6.14-16), “What does getting a plastic race car have to do with justice?” Without the entire argument about what the car is made of, its origins of manufacture etc. which is lost on most kids, I’m guessing the answer is, “very little”.
In that light I was pleased Sunday morning. I was at our church (EverGreen Ministries) and during the announcements we were told that our kids were memorizing scripture in their classes (a good thing). However, rather than getting candy or a plastic race car for their efforts every verse memorized was raising money to build an orphanage. The driving force of memorization was mission. The very act of memorizing took the focus off of the child and onto God’s mission in the world (“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:27 ESV)
So here’s what I’m wondering: How much of what we do in our teaching and discipling of our kids thinks about how to focus them on God’s mission rather than on themselves? When we work with our kids do we think about offering them candy to get them to be places, memorize the text and all the rest or do we offer them bricks--that build both orphanages and their faith.
By the way if you want to think more deeply about this issue the book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of the Market is a great primer.